NHL

Tough fixtures await the reeling Blues this week

Tough fixtures await the reeling Blues this week

Sports columnists Ben Frederickson and Jeff Gordon break down the Blues and address where the blame should fall. It doesn’t just affect the players, it’s not the coach.

Ben Frederickson
,

Jeff Gordon
,

Chris Drury


The Blues aren’t the only team suffering right now. The mighty Pittsburgh Penguins are languishing on a seven game winless streak.

The Ottawa Senators were hoping to break out this season, but they are winless in their last five games. The injury-depleted Calgary Flames and Washington Capitals are in the midst of a four game winless streak.

But there are two teams that definitely aren’t contending: the Boston Bruins, who host the Blues on Monday night, and the Vegas Golden Knights, who host the Blues on Saturday.

The Bruins started 10-1 before falling to the Toronto Maple Leafs in their last game. Meanwhile, the Golden Knights have won seven straight to improve to 11-2.

Between the challenging games in Boston and Vegas, the Blues play in Philadelphia on Tuesday night against the 6-3-2 Flyers and host the San Jose Sharks on Thursday.

The injury-depleted Flyers are one of the surprisingly good teams early on. New coach John Tortorella grinds them down in the face of adversity.

So, in the short term, the road back to the track for the surprising Blues looks perilous.

The Bruins got off to a fast start despite dealing with a slew of injuries. Forward Brad Marchand and defensemen Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk opened the season on injured reserve.

Marchard and Grzelcyk have since returned, but now goaltender Jeremy Swayman is on the shelf.

Still, Boston is in great shape. Their loss to the Maple Leafs numbers prompted a reset, which will make things even more difficult for the grade.

“We’ll get the best out of everyone. We want that, don’t we?” Bruins winger Taylor Hall said. “We want that challenge. So we’re going to have to play better than we did tonight. It was a really good run.”

Bruins coach Jim Montgomery pointed to his team’s inability to get into a smooth transition game against the Maple Leafs.

“They were sprouts,” he said. “We weren’t very clean, and then just our puck decisions through the neutral zone to make sure we could establish a forecheck, which we weren’t able to do.”

Corrective action expected against disjointed blues.

The Flyers have overcome injuries in large part because goaltender Carter Hart repositioned his game.

“It’s not so much that he makes the saves, it’s how he looks,” Tortorella said of Hart. “I think a goalkeeper can sometimes set the pace for your team. He looks relaxed, he looks calm. I think he calms the team down as well. He’s been very good.”

As for the Golden Knights, they’ve been on a steamroller with cornerstone Jack Eichel back to full strength after recovering from his groundbreaking neck surgery.

“We’re having a lot of fun right now, the win adds to that,” Golden Knights wing Reilly Smith said. “We’re trying to keep the ball rolling and stay positive, but it’s nice to be able to play when you’re winning, and you just try to keep those streaks going.”

The Bruins made some unhappy news by signing potential troublemaker Mitchell Miller, who endured an ugliness of racial harassment during his teenage years. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman wasn’t amused, and neither were some Boston veterans, so the Bruins quickly moved on from Miller.

Flames coach Darryl Sutter needs to crack the whip in Calgary. He had Mikael Backlund, Milan Lucic, Kevin Rooney and Connor Mackey riding the pine during a 4-3 overtime loss to the New Jersey Devils.

“He had to shorten the bench a lot,” Sutter said. “When you don’t have the energy or the excitement in the game, then they can’t play. It doesn’t matter who they are. The boys who played in the third got us a point. . . You should have the energy because you’ve only played nine games in a month. If you don’t have the energy, maybe you have a preparation problem.”

After losing goaltender Matt Murray to injury, the Toronto Maple Leafs suffered a second blow when Ilya Samsonov suffered a knee injury on Saturday. Erik Kallgren took over as the starting goaltender, but Murray could return from IL this week.

With many other teams developing injury-related needs at goaltending, the Golden Knights could deal Laurent Broissoit. He’s currently in a rehab stint in the AHL and could stick around with Las Vegas battling the usual salary cap concerns and Adin Hill doing a nice job as Logan Thompson’s backup.

With the Vancouver Canucks fading on their backs in the Western Conference playoff race, president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford might feel more inclined to start overhauling his roster. That could mean trading captain Bo Horvat, who has a $5.5 million salary cap hit in the final year of his contract.

Horvat is arguably the last player the team should trade, given his strong all-around game. He’s still in his prime at 27. But his next contract could be around $9 million a year, and the Canucks will be in trouble even if the salary cap rises as expected. Negotiations for a contract extension have gone nowhere so far.

Stuart Skinner has taken over in goal for Edmonton, where free agent addition Jack Campbell has been a disappointment. His ratios (2.10 goals against average, .944 save percentage) far exceed Campbell’s (4.20, .874 appearance).

With multiple forwards on the injured list, the Capitals continue to monitor the trade market and waiver wire. There has been widespread speculation about a trade with Montreal, as the rebuilding Canadiens may want to start shedding the underproductive veteran.

And, yes, former Blues shortstop Mike Hoffman makes that list.



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